Silos vs. Teams

As I approach the sunset of my 32 years as an independent school educator at New Hampton School, reminiscing is at a premium. While some friends consider my work environment and experience odd—­in my specific case, living on a boarding school campus, raising my family in a communal environment, and working where my day extends beyond the academic hours—I cannot imagine another life course. The relationships and teamwork requisite for independent boarding school professionals have allowed me space to collaborate, to innovate, and to be nimble. While some of my peers have spent their careers focusing in one area of school life, I have been able to serve in a variety of roles, each with its own set of circumstances and expectations. Relationships and teamwork have fueled my willingness to take on each new challenge. Whether it be my college counseling team, my fellow administrators, the English department, former colleagues, or my ISANNE counterparts, I have been surrounded by individuals who are vastly talented, able to lift me with wisdom, and provide critical loyalty to propel my work forward. I knew my network of support would be integral to my success in each position I held. In sum, I have had many teams and teammates to support my work.

Who is on your team? To how many teams do you claim membership? What is the team’s goal and how will the team achieve said goal? It is far too easy in the busyness of school life to keep our heads down, to work independently because it is more efficient, to fast-track the task to mark it complete. For much of my career, I worked in silos as the traditional triple-threat educator—teacher, coach, house parent. Fast-forward to my current role, Director of College Counseling, and things are much different. Prior to being in this role, the College Office was somewhat mystical to me. I knew, generally, of the outcomes, supported my students through recommendation writing, and was aware of the process because my own children had successfully completed it. Once I began my work in the College Office, I realized this cloistered environment needed to be exposed. I first assembled a team of people who valued transparency. We began sending meeting notes to counselees’ parents, so they were aware of the progress being made during each session. We solicited input from advisors and parents to bolster school statements. We shared outcomes with the school community and celebrated the work faculty do with students to lead to college admission success. We honored student outcomes throughout the process. We joined national and local college admission boards as well as travelled extensively to network and learn about the ever-changing landscape in college admission. Our work, bolstered by teachers, coaches, advisors, and co-curricular mentors, allowed students to know everyone on their team was supporting them in preparation for the next step, which for most was higher education.

The team approach to college counseling provides checks and balances to a student’s college application process. In light of the recent college admission scandal, this approach is perhaps more important than ever. The counselor’s knowledge of the student and the commentary from additional recommenders should be consistent and sound. Admission counselors who read student applications from independent schools speak to the value of this coherence. Each student’s application reads true to the individual. Again, the team approach lifts our students in the process because there is integrity in the knowledge obtained through relationships. Christine Chapman, an Independent Education Consultant, was recently quoted as saying, “I guarantee that at the end of the process, the child is going to feel empowered and they have integrity because what they showed is their own. Beyond that, there is no guarantee.” I value her wisdom; I value the guaranteed integrity of the holistic educational approach independent schools deliver to students.

On April 16, 2019, ISANNE college counselors and regional college admission counselors will gather for the 5th Annual ISANNE UnConference. We will learn through the experiences of our peer colleagues; we will collaborate to support the students in our care; we will be critically loyal to each other and to our profession. The college process is the culmination of a student’s journey—one that has been supported by the guidance of caring mentors, teachers, and administrators. These professionals are devoted to their work, creative in their delivery, and nimble in their thinking. The inspiration fueled by my colleagues’ efforts, both within the New Hampton School community and the extended ISANNE network, certainly makes my retirement bittersweet. I will miss the collaboration, creativity, and wisdom of my teams.

About The Author

Jennifer Berry
Director of College Counseling, New Hampton School
Jennifer Berry is Director of College Counseling at New Hampton School. She also teaches AP English Language and Composition. Jennifer completed her B.A. in American Studies with a concentration in Education at Colby College in 1987. An alumna of New Hampton School, Berry has devoted her 30-year career to independent schools. She has worked as a house parent, advisor, coach, English Department Chair, and admission office associate. 
Most recently, in her role as Director of Studies, New Hampton School embraced curricular growth and initiatives that enhanced the learning of its students through successful technology integration, customized learning opportunities, the addition of the IB DIploma Programme, and skill-based pedagogy. 
She lives on Gordon Hill in New Hampton with her husband, Tom. Her children, Kelsey ’ 07, Emma ’10, and Hayden ’15, are graduates of New Hampton School. Jen’s favorite leisure time activities involve spending time with her family, reading, skiing, hiking, and traveling to new places.